Do any of you like musicals? Or maybe even classical music?
I love musicals and have a particular joy in hearing recurring motifs. Do you know what I mean? When you’re listening to the instrumental parts of the musical, a motif sneaks into a current piece that reminds you of a scene that happened earlier in the musical. Sometimes, it brings the emotions from that earlier scene into the current one and we, as the audience, are like “oh, that reminds me of…”
The Sound of Music, Hamilton, as well as so many other musicals are full of those little hints.
I thought about motifs this week when I was reading the Biblical Christmas story. Particularly when reading Matthew 1:23:
“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).
As profound as this verse is (and should be), the idea of God being with his people is not a “new” idea in Matthew 1. In fact, there a numerous verses about God being with his people from Isaiah 41:10, Joshua 1:9, Deuteronomy 31:6, and the well-known Psalm 23 (verse 4 in particular) all the way into the New Testament where the announcement of Jesus’ birth to a young virgin named Mary and beyond.
Jesus himself continues the theme later in Matthew (Note, it’s Matthew again. Coincidence? I think not!) In Matthew 28:20, Jesus is ascending after his resurrection and says, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Interesting that in the first chapter of Matthew and the last chapter, we have this idea repeated. God with us.
A motif, of sorts, right? When Jesus mentions this about himself at the end of Matthew, it causes me to harken back to Matthew 1 when the angel starts off Jesus’ earthly story with the same theme. Kind of like God is just reminding everyone, “I was with you at the beginning and I’m going to be with you always. I mean it.”
If we really think about this idea of God being with us, it’s rather mind-boggling.
- God – the Creator of the Universe whose mere words brought life, space, earth, and everything else into existence. His WORDs created, ordered, and beautified all we see and know (and many things we can’t see or know). THIS is the being who is with us. Who holds our souls, who heals our broken-heartedness, who understands our sorrows, who makes our paths straight, who loves us. And the same power within his WORDS came into “flesh” in the birth of Jesus. Whoa!
- With – The Free Dictionary Online defines “with” as “in the company of” or “alongside”. It’s also important to note it is in present tense, not past or future, especially if we refer to Jesus’ statement “I AM with you always”. There’s no qualifier for when Jesus is with us. He means…Right now. Wherever we are and in whatever circumstances we find ourselves. He is WITH us. Romans 8:38-39 reminds us, “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” So when God is with us, He is ALWAYS with us. Everywhere. We are never alone, lost, forgotten, too far gone, or out of his reach. He is always present with us.
- Us – Who is us? Our pastor brought the reminder this past weekend at our church’s Christmas concert. Perhaps, we can look a little farther in the Christmas story at a spectacular nocturnal visit to a bunch of outcast shepherds near Bethlehem (at some point, we should talk about the importance of God choosing shepherds to hear this first birth announcement.) :-). The host of angels sings to the shepherds, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (ESV) Hmm, who are those? His kids. Those who are a part of God’s family. Those who have been called, saved, born-again—whichever word you choose to use—are the ones who not only say God is Creator and King, but also call him “Father”. His special love for His kids give us assurance of His constancy, care, and continual closeness to us, no matter the circumstances.
It’s a wonderful reminder this time of year, maybe especially after the past two years we’ve all lived through, to remember that God is not some distant, uninvolved ruler, but throughout history He has come to His people to show his love and rescue them. The culmination of millennia of God’s fingerprints throughout history comes in the very real fingerprints of “God in flesh” as a baby in Bethlehem born to provide the ultimate rescue of God’s kids.